Travellers headed to Australia may need to undergo a COVID-19 test before they set foot on the plane, as part of discussions between the NSW state government and international airlines.
Pre-flight testing, followed by a second test on arrival, could reduce the amount of time that inbound passengers need to spend in hotel isolation, and form part of a 2021 quarantine revamp incorporating a 'traffic light' system for ranking countries, and home isolation.
Preflight testing is being assessed by a number of airlines on selected routes, primarily on the busy trans-Atlantic corridor spanning UK, Europe and the USA.
American Airlines and British Airways last month began a trial of optional COVID-19 testing on flights from London to New York and Dallas Forth Worth, while United Airlines will this week complete a month-long trial of mandatory testing on flights from Newark to London.
The aim is to evaluate whether preflight COVID-19 tests can be relied upon to relax travel restrictions and shorten quarantine periods.
As reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW state government is now "considering stricter COVID-19 testing protocols for returned travellers and airline crew in a bid to keep the state safe."
Discussions are underway "with representatives from international airlines" as to how testing could be introduced for all passengers and crew before a flight leaves for Australia, as well as upon its arrival.
"We might have to look at determining the most high-risk countries and which countries have tests we can rely on by developing a system that recognises the relative risk on a number of criteria," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
"Whatever we come up with in NSW by working with international airlines, we then need to see if it can be adopted in other states and territories so there's consistency across Australia."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is keen on the adoption of a 'traffic light' system to rank nations according to how they were tracking with COVID-19 infections, and treat the isolation requirements for inbound travellers accordingly.
Passengers coming from ‘red’ countries and regions would continue to spend a fortnight in hotel isolation.
Entry from a country or territory zoned ‘green’ would not require any quarantine period – as is now the case for travellers arriving from New Zealand into selected Australian airports, and would apply to future two-way 'travel bubbles' – provided they haven’t visited any ‘amber’ or ‘red’ destinations in the previous 14 days.